Many of the bridge crew had to shield their eyes from what appeared. Huckaby turned down the brightness on the viewscreen, so that everyone could regain focus on their tasks at hand. “What did we just pass through?” Limis demanded, pacing over to the Ops station.
“You got me,” Carson sighed, trying to make sense of the endless stream of sensor data with which her display was being inundated.” She was just as anxious as the captain to get some answers and looked over at Huckaby.
“I’ll have to sort out all these readings later,” Huckaby answered. “But if I had to guess, I would think we just entered a Dyson Sphere.”
“Dyson Sphere?” Limis repeated.
“Named after Freeman Dyson,” Kozar explained. “In theory, such a structure could draw energy from a star, providing an almost endless source of power.”
“The sheer amount of raw material needed to build one of those things makes the idea highly impractical,” Huckaby added.
“I remember hearing about Dyson Spheres in a theoretical astrophysics course at the Academy,” Carson chimed in.
Limis nodded as if what her officers were saying now made sense. “I think I heard the Enterprise rescued Scotty from transporter suspension seventy-five years after his transport crashed on a Dyson sphere. Is this one cloaked?”
“Unlikely,” Morrison responded keeping his focus on the sensor readings on his display. “I didn’t pick up any tachyon spikes while we were passing through… whatever that was.”
“No matter, that’s not important now,” Limis said. “Any sign of where the mercenaries may have gone?” she then asked Carson.
“I have fragments of their trail on my navigation sensors,” Carson answered. “Solar flares are making it difficult to completely detect.”
“Another good reason to hide here,” Kozar retorted, sauntering over to the tactical station. “Mandel, did the shipyard crews get around to installing metaphasic shielding?”
Morrison entered a few commands into his console. A file on metaphasic shielding then appeared on the display screen. “Lucky us,” he answered. “Activating now.”
“That should protect us for a while,” Kozar explained to the captain. “Hopefully, it’ll hold for as long as we need to be here.”
“I have something on sensors that may be of help,” Huckaby reported.
Limis and Kozar walked over to operations station to hear what the ensign had to say. “This sphere is constructed of a poly-duranium alloy,” he told them. “I’m reading a monotanium hull alloy just like the mercenary ship at bearing nine-five mark two-zero-five.”
“Conn, set a course,” Limis commanded.
The Lambda Paz arched upwards towards the interior hull of the Dyson Sphere. It soon came across a craft the size of an escape pod docked along the interior of the hull. “Sounds like a good starting point,” Limis suggested. “Prepare an away team, Kozar.”
“Aye, sir,” Kozar replied. “Morrison, assemble a security team. Kozar to sh’Aqba, report to the transporter bay with an engineering team.” He and Morrison then stepped onto the starboard turbolift.
Kozar, Morrison, sh’Aqba, and Tarlazzi materialized, knees slightly bent inside the small pod that did not leave much standing room. Two human male security officers were behind them. Sh’Aqba opened her tricorder and then entered a few commands into the single seat piloting station to transmit information into tricorder translated into Federation standard. “This appears to be a cargo pod,” she reported. “The cargo holds are below here. Whatever cargo was in them was transported out roughly fifteen hours ago.”
“Any idea what was transported?” Kozar inquired.
“The transport logs were wiped afterwards,” the Andorian answered.
“We should probably take our chances in the habitat this thing is docked at,” Tarlazzi suggested.
“Agreed,” said Morrison, grabbing his Type-2 hand phaser. He then looked over at the two security guards. “Set phasers to cut through the hatch.”
The two other security officers compliantly pulled out their phasers and began firing at the ceiling hatch. Within two minutes, the six-person team was inside an artificial habitat of the Dyson Sphere.
The team made its way through a circular hatch in the floor one at a time. The Starfleet officers then tiptoed quietly through a dark corridor. The metal walls showed signs of age from the large rust patches. Live wires protruded from the walls, the ceiling, and the deck. The away team had to walk slowly in order to avoid accidental contact with those wires.
Kozar, Morrison, and sh’Aqba had tricorders out to scan for the locator beacon on most Starfleet property. If the alien thieves had known of such technology, they could have easily removed the devices in order to assure the pilfered equipment could not be found. That was all they had to go on, though, as the crew was not afforded the time of formulating a rough schematic of the sphere and its artificial habitats. “It’s like a haunted house,” Morrison commented.
“Haunted house?” sh’Aqba asked, not familiar with the antiquated Earth term.
“Old Earth mythology,” Kozar explained. “An old abandoned house is often believed to be haunted by demonic spirits.”
“Something modern science has disproved,” Tarlazzi chimed in.
“Nevertheless, this place gives me the creeps,” Morrison replied.
“This almost seems too easy,” Kozar mused.
The tricorder scans led the team into a large storage room. It looked to have to been ransacked with containers knocked on their sides. A set of upright containers filled the center of the cargo hold. Kozar raised a hand signaling the rest of the team to stay, and then nodded to Morrison to accompany him to the cargo containers. Kozar opened one of the containers to reveal Starfleet ration packs. “This looks like our stuff,” he said.
A particle burst struck the wall behind Morrison just below the ceiling. Morrison quickly jerked his head to the right. “Ambush!” he called out.
The rest of the team took cover behind the cargo containers. A Romulan peered out through a doorway on the opposite end of the cargo hold, firing his phaser again. He wore a light gray jumpsuit rather than a military uniform. Two other Romulan civilians entered the hold firing projectile phaser rifles. Morrison was then able to notice the brow ridges that distinguished Romulans from most other Vulcanoid races. “Romulans?” he wondered aloud.
“We’ll worry about their involvement in this later,” Kozar replied, firing his phaser at their assailants.
Two of the Romulans continued to lay down cover fire while the one on the right made his way around the set of containers. Tarlazzi turned to his right and fell down on his back to fire his fire his phaser stunning the Romulan. The one Romulan who was armed with a small pistol climbed onto the top of the containers to lunge at the officers. He jumped Morrison, knocking his phaser out of his hand. The Romulan pointed his pistol at Morrison’s head, but the two junior guards stunned him with their phaser rifles.
The third Romulan who was still standing darted towards the Starfleet team. A dagger he was holding as he charged towards them grazed sh’Aqba in her left shoulder. She quickly fell over and Kozar lunged at the attacker. The Romulan quickly broke free. The dagger sliced through Kozar’s left wrist. Morrison then fired his phaser, stunning the last attacker.
Tarlazzi and the guards helped sh’Aqba to sit back up while Morrison walked over to Kozar. “The knife just grazed me,” sh’Aqba lied.
“You should still have Doctor Markalis look at it,” Tarlazzi replied.
Morrison ripped part of the left cuff of his gold inner tunic to apply a tourniquet to Kozar’s wound. “It looks superficial,” the commander insisted.
“We shouldn’t take any chances with it though,” Morrison replied.
“Tarlazzi,” Kozar called to the Rigellian. “Set up the transport enhancers.”
Tarlazzi slid rods from the case he had been carrying and handed them off to the two guards. The three rods were placed around the cargo containers. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” said Kozar, tapping his combadge. “Kozar to Lambda Paz. Energize.”
The away team and the cargo containers then dematerialized.
Over the next several hours, other away teams consisting of engineering and security personnel transported to the sphere habitat to locate more of the missing equipment. These teams encountered similar resistance from trios of Romulans. Kozar’s team, meanwhile, reported to Captain Limis in the observation lounge for debriefing after routine medical exams in sickbay. While en route from sickbay to the briefing room, Kozar again questioned the captain’s decision to engage in such a risky endeavor. He had the same concerns about going off on a wild goose chase to retrieve stolen equipment, especially now that Romulans were involved.
“I’ve mentioned how Starfleet is dealing with supply and manpower shortages,” Limis reiterated, as they stepped into a turbolift heading for the bridge. “Deck one,” she ordered the lift’s computer.
“Besides,” the captain continued, “in the Maquis, we put ourselves in greater danger nabbing technology that did not belong to us.”
Lieutenant Commander Morrison and Lieutenant sh’Aqba were already in the observation lounge when the captain and first officer arrived. The two subordinate officers were comparing notes regarding personnel from their respective departments available for away mission duty. Limis and Kozar sauntered in and stood at the head of the table. “What’s our status?” the captain asked.
“We have security and engineering teams aboard the sphere to find the rest of our equipment,” sh’Aqba responded. “Commander Logan is staying aboard to supervise repairs. He should have warp drive online in thirty minutes.”
Limis nodded approvingly, and then looked to Morrison. “Major Davis is leading the MACO’s in case the teams encounter further resistance,” the second officer stated. “The question is what the Romulans have to gain from all this.”
“They’re probably not affiliated with the Dominion,” Kozar offered. “The Romulan Empire signed a non-aggression pact with the Dominion. They’re neutral.”
“Admiral Ross relayed a message to me from Starfleet Intelligence,” Limis added. “Various criminal syndicates have been raiding starships for the latest technological innovations. With the Maquis mostly out of the picture, these mercenaries have to turn to organized crime groups. The Romulans’ stake in this is probably to feel out both sides of the war to see who is a greater threat to their interests.”
“The teams did find equipment that was clearly beyond Romulan technological capabilities,” said sh’Aqba. “The science labs are analyzing it now.”
“Anything else about the Dyson Sphere?” the captain asked the engineer. “This is an interesting archeological find, worthy of extensive study if we weren’t in the middle of a war.”
“According to Ensign Makassa,” Kozar replied, in reference to the gamma-shift operations officer, “the quantum scans indicate this thing is almost two hundred thousand years old.”
“How did they conceal it if isn’t using cloaking technology?” Limis asked.
“From what we can gather from all the sensor data,” Morrison replied, “whoever built it took a pocket of subspace and folded over the sphere.”
“Too bad we can’t stay here and study it further,” the captain lamented. “Keep me posted on your progress, people. Dismissed.”
The other officers left leaving Limis to mull over the implications of stumbling across such ancient, but advanced technology. In the wrong hands, this Dyson Sphere could cause disaster, especially if the Dominion learned of it.
As much as my first officer second-guessed my decision to go after the thieves and go to such risky lengths to take back our pilfered equipment, I knew I made the right choice. After that debriefing, I learned of a breakthrough that would be of major importance. I’m an agnostic, but I would still say that the Prophets were pointing me in the right direction.
Markalis called Limis into the main science lab. She had been analyzing one of the mystery devices the away teams brought aboard. The science officers on duty worked tirelessly to get some idea on what purpose it served. The doctor had quickly discovered something that she thought the captain would consider important.
“From what we can tell, this device is designed to analyze and identify various types of microorganisms,” Markalis explained to the captain upon the older woman’s arrival. “It is unlike any medical technology Starfleet has. It can also break down those microorganisms into their base elements.” Markalis handed Limis a padd containing a set of complicated chemical formulas.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Limis replied. “You’ll have to give me the short version.”
“Tri-nucleic fungi can be broken down into yridium bicantizine,” the doctor answered. “It’s an active ingredient in ketracel-white.”
“Why didn’t you just say that to begin with?” Limis asked with a grin.
“I’ve observed that Starfleet officers feel a need to impress their captains with their excellent reasoning skills,” Markalis explained. For the first time that Limis could remember since coming aboard the Lambda Paz, Markalis smiled.
A light went on in Limis’s mind. This was superior Dominion technology, meaning the mercenaries who raided her ship also stole Dominion technology. If that were the case, then the Cardassian in the brig would have some idea as to the location of a ketracel-white manufacturing plant. Having once been a resistance fighter, Limis engaged in other lines of work as a cover profession. Perhaps Mirren’s cover profession was working in a ketracel-white manufacturing plant.
Limis then headed straight for the brig and dismissed the guard on duty. Mirren was taking a light nap, so he immediately sat up on the bench upon the captain’s arrival. “You got your stuff back without my help,” he said with that wry smirk Limis had become familiar with during their last exchange. “Here to let me go?”
“Your group stole equipment from a ketracel-white manufacturing plant. Where is it?”
Mirren shook his head, attempting to feign ignorance of what the Bajoran was talking about. “I don’t know of any ketracel-white plant,” he confidently insisted.
“You’re lying!” Limis sneered. She entered a few commands into the wall panel to the left of the cell shutting off the forcefield. She then removed her phaser and pointed it at the prisoner. “Get up!” she insisted.
When Mirren did not comply, Limis grabbed him by the collar to force the Cardassian upright. She then dragged him out of the cell and out into the corridor. The human male guard assigned to the detention cell overnight had been waiting outside the brig, and he gazed in wonder at what the captain was planning. Further down the corridor, a passing human female officer passed by and stopped in her tracks staring in awe. “As you were, Ensign,” Limis said.
“Where are you taking me?” Mirren rhetorically asked. “Your torture chamber?”
“I’m going to get that information out of you any way I can,” Limis cryptically replied.
“Like I said before, Starfleet is too civilized to torture.”
They arrived at an airlock where Limis opened the door and shoved the prisoner inside. After closing the door again, she peered through the small transparent aluminum window. “This airlock can decompress in forty seconds,” she said. “Tell me what I want to know.”
Mirren chuckled, thinking Limis was making a cruel joke. Limis then pressed a button to the right of the door, cutting off the oxygen. “The ketracel-white plant,” she demanded, gritting her teeth.
Morrison and two security guards arrived on the scene while the captain and the prisoner stared each other down. “Captain,” he said.
“Everything is under control, Morrison,” Limis replied.
Morrison could not believe his eyes when he saw the readout on the airlock control panel. “The airlock is decompressing,” he said. “He’ll die.”
“Not for another twenty seconds he won’t,” Limis responded without looking away from Mirren. “Where is the ketracel-white manufacturing plant?”
Mirren began gasping for breath. “Say again,” Limis taunted.
With five seconds left before the airlock completely decompressed, Limis recompressed it and opened the door. Mirren sprawled out, falling to the deck while gasping for air. “Sector…” he gasped. “Sector four-nine-seven.” Mirren suddenly began choking.
The two kneeled down to attend to the Cardassian as he was lapsing into unconsciousness. Limis tapped her combadge to signal the transporter room. “Transporter room,” she said, “lock onto our Cardassian prisoner and beam him to sickbay.” Mirren then dematerialized.